While today may belong to the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it’s important not to forget another important anniversary for NASA - the landing of the Viking 1 spacecraft on Mars!
On July 20th, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia, a flat lowland region in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Immediately following touchdown, the lander made history by taking and transmitting the first complete photograph taken from the surface of Mars. The image (http://goo.gl/6C5L6m) was of the Viking 1 lander’s foot as an indication of how far it had sunk into the Martian surface. Between itself and its companion, Viking 2, this historic photograph was just the first of more than 50,000 images taken from the Martian surface, as well as from orbit, and transmitted back to Earth.
What makes Viking 1 especially worth noting is that it was not only the first attempt by the United States at landing on Mars, but it was also the first spacecraft to successfully do so and perform its mission. While the Soviet Mars 3 mission was the first to achieve a soft landing of a spacecraft on Mars it stopped transmitting data 15 seconds after landing. During those few seconds of transmission, it sent the first partial photograph taken from the surface of Mars although nothing was identifiable in it.
During its operation on the Martian surface, Viking 1 became the record holder for longest Mars surface mission at 2307 days, until Mars Rover Opportunity took the record in 2010.